What do you say?

If you were asked to describe internal comms in one sentence what would you say? Last night I went to the launch of Share This with the other book authors (check out a photo of us all by @spwalker). It was great to meet the other authors in person rather than purely via social media, and you can see what we got up to by viewing the Animoto slideshow on YouTube. Pictured l-r at the launch are: me and my guests, IC pros Sarah Hodges and Jenni Wheller. You can watch the slideshow via the image on this page.

An after party was held at a curry house in Brick Lane, London, and during dinner I had a conversation around the definition of internal comms, which got me thinking. Earlier this year the definition of PR was debated and agreed, but do internal comms pros feel this applies to them? As a reminder it is: Public Relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their publics. I’d love to know your views, please do comment below or tweet me @AllthingsIC.

All things internal comms
Back in 2009 I helped instigate and organise a comms flashmob to define all things internal comms on Wikipedia, as information on IC was severely lacking. Fast forward to now and comms recruiters VMA Group has today launched their new internal communications survey for 2012-2013.

They ‘take the pulse’ of the internal communications profession every 18 months, focusing on careers, budgets, the influence of internal communication and professional development. This year’s survey is the most extensive to date, it takes approximately ten minutes to complete, and includes qualitative and quantitative questions. VMA Group says that input from IC pros will help them continue to advise Directors of Communications and Chief Executives of the importance of IC and the impact good IC can have on the performance of their businesses.

I was sent and completed the survey this morning and noted that they addressed definition, asking: How would you describe internal communications in one sentence? Plus If IC was renamed today, what would it be? The survey is open until the end of August 2012 and I’m particularly interested to read the results of those questions. If you’d like to take the survey and not received it from VMA Group, you can request it here.

What do you say?
If you work in internal communication, what do you say when people ask what you do for a living? Do you talk about writing newsletters, being an ‘internal journalist’, advising and coaching leaders – what’s your one sentence answer?

My answer has changed over time. I started my career as a journalist, joining the newsroom of my local newspaper the week before I turned 19.  So when I moved into internal comms three years later, I found myself describing the role as me being an ‘internal journalist’ as none of my friends and family had come across IC before.

Do you vary your answer depending on who you’re talking to? Do you focus on the tactical when you’re actually strategic? Please do share your thoughts with other readers by leaving a comment. I’d definitely encourage you to complete VMA’s survey. They had 500 participants last year, let’s see if that can be beaten this year to really have a good representation of our profession, Rachel


  1. I’ve received this comment via Twitter:

    @Louambera ‘Done well allows people to connect with their organisation and drives two-way communication’

  2. @nataliebenjamin says: ‘I say it’s like being a translator, helping people to understand where they work and what they’re trying to achieve’

    These are great, do please keep them coming – either via Twitter or by commenting directly on this page, Rachel.

  3. Doug Shaw says:

    Great question. Today’s answer (and it’s been a looong day) is as follows:

    Too often internal comms involves precious little communication, it is in fact internal broadcasting.

    I will return tomorrow with something more uplifting – because I’ve seen lots of good stuff going on too 🙂

  4. Thanks for your thoughts Doug, looking forward to seeing what tomorrow brings! Hope you manage to have a relaxing evening, Rachel

  5. Advita says:

    Like you Rachel my answer varies depending on who asks. Non-communication professionals tend to look blankly when I tell them the job title, so I describe the role as – helping staff communicate and understand what is happening within the organisation through various comm channels. Must admit this sentence changes on a daily basis.

    Worryingly some people working within the org still don’t understand the role and think of me as some sort of glorified administrator! It’s all good fun though

  6. ‘Glorified administrator’ – makes me want to weep! Thanks for sharing Advita. It is all good fun and I think retaining a sense of humour is key. That and a huge dollop of patience, Rachel

  7. Neil Jenkins says:

    Mine would be “helping a business & its people understand each other”. I’m also a big fan of another answer from a former boss of mine: “Help people enjoy coming to work.”

  8. Sarah Hodges says:

    I was shocked the other day when I was copied in on an email that referred to me as a ‘wordsmith’ who would ‘tidy up bad grammar’.

    I personally explain my role as someone who helps hundreds of people understand the role they play in helping their organization achieve its aims and objectives.

  9. @Neil Thank you, I like both of those descriptions

    @Sarah I’m not surprised you were shocked, did you challenge them?

    Am finding this fascinating, please do keep your comments coming, thank you, Rachel

  10. Comment via Twitter @pritchardkate: “after reading all those comments today, one of our favourites was #internalcomms = communists.”

    I’m not even sure how to address that! I’ve certainly heard IC teams referred to as “comms police”, myself included, when striving to correct branding, language etc, but “communists” is a step too far. I wonder if any other group of professionals in an organisation would be called that?! Rachel.

  11. Sarah Hodges says:

    I did challenge, yes! Ended up having a good conversation about how our team can really add value. We are not just there to edit and correct spelling mistakes! I do find myself changing how I describe and explain internal comms depending on who I speak to. Sometimes I attempt to describe a ‘typical’ day to help put it in to a real work based context others can relate to.

  12. @Sarah good work 🙂 Explaining a typical day is a smart idea.

    ‏@fordcudworth via Twitter said: “An alternate way to define IC: protecting & enhancing the company’s reputation with its internal stakeholders”

  13. Diane Walsh says:

    I really struggle to describe what I do in Internal Comms and think a good test is to see if your grandparents or parents have any idea what you do. I would definitely say my answer is different depending on who i’m talking to but I agree with a number of posts that ‘IC ensures that everyone within the organisation knows what is expected of them and how their contribution fits into the business objectives and that they have all the knowledge and tools to do it.’

  14. From @kimborrowdale via Twitter: Ditto @nataliebenjamin we are translators. But, this is true for all comms roles not just IC. The most disturbing/amusing definition I heard years ago. “They are the team that help with presentations, you know, ppt”

    Thanks for your comment Kim, we seem to have a recurring theme with the purely wordsmith/presentations perception, Rachel.

  15. @Diane I like the idea of the grandparent test! Your answer is pretty comprehensive, thanks for contributing to the discussion, Rachel

  16. Doug Shaw says:

    I’d like to work with Neil and Advita and Sarah 🙂 Helping people feels very useful. Communication is about facilitation, involvement and lots of exchange, so that people feel informed and a part of something. The IC people I work with who get the best results are those who are the more relaxed about supplying tools and support for others to engage. They do stuff with people, not to them.

    The ones who seem to struggle are those who get fixated on the minutiae of tone, language and the logo. Participation is more important than Pantone!

    In other news – I facilitated an afternoon with the IoIC at their annual conference recently and we discussed the future of IC. I will publish the notes from the discussion next week and let you know where to find them – I think you and your readers may find this useful?

    Cheers – Doug

  17. @Leapfrogmark via Twitter: When I joined Nationwide IC – 20+ yrs ago – CEO greeted me with: “Ah, you’re the new boy in the Pravda team.”

    Can’t believe these are getting worse! Rachel

  18. @Doug I think “Participation is more important than Pantone!” has to be one of my favourite quotes, am totally using that, is spot on.

    Thanks for your comments, would definitely be interested in reading about it, I saw a report online but keen to hear from you directly. Will send you the best contact details as would be happy to publish, Rachel

  19. Comment via @AcademyKev on Twitter: IC definition> creating “informed employee voice”. For an academic review of defintions see http://tinyurl.com/cypzmqp

    Thanks very much Kevin. I’d love to hear more views from other IC professionals, do feel free to comment below. Rachel

  20. Wendy Jordan says:

    Internal Comms to me is opening and maintaining a conversation with all our staff.

    We need to talk openly about our roles, our direction and our shared values.

    Although my ultimate boss is the CEO – i believe I work for the staff. Their needs are paramount.

  21. Rachel P says:

    I think of us as interpreters: we provide meaning and context so leaders AND employees understand their role in driving the business towards its goals.

  22. Thanks Wendy and Rachel for contributing to this discussion.

    @Wendy I like your stance about working for the staff and @Rachel P I agree – making that connection between employees and the business goals is crucial, Rachel

  23. Jessica Bull says:

    I give leaders the tools and the confidence to engage their staff to deliver great things.

  24. Helen Wilson says:

    I travelled to work this morning with my new neighbour and found myself trying to explain internal comms – a function she hadn’t heard of! I try and explain it as being at the heart of a business and it’s our responsibility to ensure people feel not only informed but that they are all working towards the same goal and feel valued by their company. I find there isn’t a quick answer as our role is so varied.

  25. @Jessica short and sweet, but think the confidence element is essential.

    @Helen good timing for this post 🙂 I think that’s a great description and agree there’s not usually a quick answer.

  26. Dan Penton says:

    At its most basic I think it’s: “Helping people in organisations hear and be heard.”

  27. @Dan Thank you for your input, I’ve found this an intriguing discussion and I like the fact you’ve included two-way in your answer, Rachel.

  28. Dave Wraith says:

    Great idea Rachel. I like to say it’s like oiling the wheels of an organisation, helping people understand what’s going on and how they can contribute. But I do find it a struggle, so looking forward to the combined wisdom!

  29. angela gostling says:

    How about helping employees know how they contribute to the success of the business and giving them an opportunity to contribute more.
    Whatever you think, please take the time to complete the VMA survey. I contributed to the creation of those questions and will be using the results to feed into the CIPR Inside career planning model.

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